Specialized Diverge Review: Asphalt Revisited.
After a few months with the Specialized Diverge – both full throttle down desert blacktop and along meandering New Mexican dirt roads – we find out if this All Road rig is true to its name’s dictionary definition.
Diverge: to separate from another route and go in a different direction, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. It’s an apt name for Specialized’s ‘all road’ bike, a model that slots in alongside the burly AWOL and the do-it-all Sequoia, at the lighter end of the company’s Adventure range.
As is often the way with the Big S, there are several builds to pick from. Which appeals most will largely depend on the depth of your pockets and your riding locale, given the choice of drivetrains and frame materials. At $2600, our test bike – the 2016 Diverge Comp DSW X1 Comp – sits somewhere in the middle of the pack. While it’s certainly not as glamorous as the satin black carbon tubeset of the Diverge Pro – priced at a cool $5500 for 2017 – it’s considerably more refined than the entry level A1, which rings in at a very inclusive $900.
What they all share is a DNA designed for ‘all road’ riding, be it the smoothest of highways, frontage roads, broken roads, desert roads or anything in between. This translates into a bicycle with a more stable stance than a dedicated road machine, clearances for markedly larger tires, the confidence of powerful disc brakes, and a penchant for blending for asphalt, dirt and gravel. All in a relatively lightweight, road-inspired package.
With northern New Mexico as my testing ground, I subjected my 57cm test model to a broad spectrum of riding conditions; mixed terrain exploratory day rides, alpine style climbs and descents, evening spins along baby-bottom-smooth blacktop, fast commutes around town (fun!), and overnight bikepacks linking old highways, forest roads and empty miles of desert dirt.
Compared to a traditional road bike, it’s the width of the Diverge’s tires – well, in roadie terms at least – that stands out most initially, in keeping with a growing trend of running roomier, lower pressure rubber on wider rims. Such tires roll quickly, absorb road blemishes efficiently and grip tenaciously, as well as augmenting comfort – at the cost of a relatively nominal difference in weight. Racing down one of the longer descents in the area, it was immediately noticeable how much confidence they imbued in my riding, especially carving hard into corners.
And there’s room to go even bigger. Officially, the frame has clearance for 35mm tires with room to spare. I’ve seen a Diverge set up with 38×700 Specialized Trigger Pros. Personally, I’d have liked to have tried it with a set of Compass’ supple-walled tires, like the Bon Jon Pass, over which randonneur riders enthuse so much about. In the meantime, the Roubaix Pros are good all rounders, though it’s a shame the wheelset that comes stock with this model isn’t tubeless ready.
Part of the reason larger tires can now be accommodated is the advent on hydraulic brakes with drop handlebars. If you haven’t tried a road bike with hydros, you’re in for a treat. The stopping power of SRAM’s Rivals is, well, unrivalled. Yes, they add weight over the caliper brakes of traditional road brakes. But their added potency, modulation make them feel indispensable within the first few miles of riding.
As for gear range, my Diverge Comp came fitted with a 46T outer ring, mated to an 11-42 cassette. Although this lightweight 1x drivetrain caused no complaints in terms of its slick, fast shifting – and offers the promise of easier maintenance than a 2x setup – it’s a gearing that’s likely to be on the large side for bikepackers heading into more mountainous topography. You can, of course, drop the range down a notch by swapping out the chainring for one that’s 4-6 teeth smaller – probably without even needing to adjust the length of the chain. But while this will certainly boost the Diverge’s climbing credentials, it will likely see you spinning out on fast day rides. If you intend to multi-day camp regularly, I’d recommend picking a model with a 2x drivetrain, ideally a compact 48/32T chainset, to enjoy the best of both worlds. Otherwise, keep your bikepacking payload to a minimum.
In terms of the frameset and the increasingly perplexing world of ‘standards’, the rear is spaced for a 135mm QR wheel, while the carbon fork accepts a 100×12 TA hub (just to add further confusion, the 2015 models are different, as are 2016 and 2017 carbon-framed versions). The E5 Aluminum frameset also features Specialized’s proprietary OSBB, which is compatible with BB30 press fit bottom brackets. Planning on some more traditional style touring? There’s provision for a rear rack mount and two water bottle cages. The one on the downtube even features three eyelets, so you can run an Anything Cage too. It is, however, a shame a third water bottle can’t be fitted below the Diverge’s belly for long desert rides.
The fork can also be fitted with a rack, like a Tubus Tara or Ergo, if you favour fashionable front loading. As for protecting both your friends and your clothes from the elements, Specialized’s Plug and Play Fenders are designed to work. Internal cable routing and a curvy tubing help lend the bike a great profile, though I have to admit, the carbon framesets look even snazzier.
On paper, the Diverge isn’t as performance-orientated as an all out road machine. Next to Specialized’s Tarmac, the chainstays are longer and the bottom bracket drop deeper. These tweaks offer increased stability, lowering your centre of gravity on the bike. At the same time, the head angle is also a little slacker, with more fork offset, which actually serves to conjure up a similar trail figure to the Tarmac – 64mm to 53mm, depending on the frame size – suggesting the bike will steer more like a road bike than a touring bike.
Indeed, out in the real world – and unless you’re a racing snake – I have little doubt you’ll be bowled over by its eagerness to be ridden hard and fast, especially if you’re coming from a mountain bike. It feels light, agile, and very engaging. The Diverge encourages out of the saddle climbs and makes sprinting along paved roads undeniably fun; in the way that it seems to transfer every iota of energy into propelling you forward. And when traffic encroaches and the path less traveled calls, its stability emboldens extended forays away from pavement. The Diverge is like a road bike that coaxes you to hop off curbs and cut down trails, without any of the hesitation you might otherwise feel.
If I had to suggest the paved/dirt ratio that suits it best, it would be an 80/20 balance in favour of the former. Which, incidentally, is where it differs from the Sequoia. I’d consider the Diverge to be considerably more fun to ride on pavement – in part thanks to its lighter weight – but to be comprehensively trumped by the Sequoia in abilities when conditions take a turn for the worse. Not that the Diverge isn’t comfortable and capable when dirt calls, thanks in part to its 32mm tires, the padded handlebar tape and its carbon seat post. Just that the two bikes have different fortes.
In fact, as someone who obsessively avoids paved roads, the Diverge reminded me about the pleasures of road touring. Here in New Mexico, it’s introduced me to the potential of connecting quiet desert roads with the dirt and gravel tracks that meander between them.
Even more surprising, it’s had me pouring over my state Gazateer, planning fast, weekend road tours with new eyes, which in turn has broadened my horizons and knowledge of the area. On this bike, I’m able to ride from my front door, strike out an impressive distance, and still bask in the knowledge that when unexpected opportunities arise, I’ll not feel limited by the constraints of asphalt.
- Frame: Specialized E5 Premium Aluminum w/ D’Aluisio Smartweld technology
- Cable-routing: Internal
- For touring/bikepacking: Rack mounts front and rear
- Fork: Specialized FACT carbon w/ Zertz, tapered
- Crankset: SRAM Rival 1
- Chainring: 46T
- Bottom Bracket: SRAM BB30
- Derailleur (rear): SRAM Rival 1, 11-speed
- Shifter Rear: SRAM Rival, 11-speed
- Cassette: SRAM XG-1150, 11-speed, 10-42T
- Chain: SRAM PC-1130, 11-speed, w/ PowerLink
- Wheels: AXIS 3.0 Disc SCS W X1
- Tires: Specialized Roubaix Pro, 120TPI, 700×30/32mm
- Brakes: SRAM Rival, hydraulic disc
- Handlebar: Shallow drop, 125mm drop, 70mm short-reach
- Tape: Specialized Roubaix, w/ 2.5mm gel pads
- Seatpost: Specialized Comp Carbon, single bolt
- Saddle: Body Geometry Toupé Sport, steel rails, 143mm
- Will make you wonder if you really need a road bike – its added versatility comes with little cost to compromise. It’s still a fantastically fun bike to ride on pavement.
- Rack mounts add to its touring credentials, as do triple eyelets on the downtube.
- Large volume tires offer comfort, corner with confidence, and still roll quickly on pavement. Why run anything skinnier?
- Attention to detail, including a comfortable perch and padded bar tape. It’s a great complete package.
- Broad range of sizes, from a petite 49cm to a gargantuan 64cm.
- Carbon seatpost is suited to unladen riding but rules out seat clamp mounted seatpacks, like Porcelain Rocket’s Mr Fusion and Specialized’s own Borra Borra model. Other seatpacks work fine. Replacement aluminium seat posts are also cheap.
- 1x drivetrain is limiting for anyone planning both laden bikepacking and fast day rides. If you intend to bikepack frequently, consider one of the double chainring models in the range.
- Disappointing not to see water bottle mounts under the downtube, especially given the bike’s raison d’être. Water bottle mounts on the fork would have been nice too, as seen on the Sequoia, Niner RLT 9 and Janis Renegade.
- Model Tested Specialized Diverge Comp DSW X1 (Model Year 2016)
- Size Tested 57″
- Sizes Available 49,52,54,56,58,61,64″
- Weight TBC
- Price $2,600
- Contact Specialized.com
- Recommended Uses Long road rides, all-road bikepacking, dirt road detours
The Diverge has me hankering for the open paved roads of the New Mexican desert; as a self-confessed dirt road addict, this is quite a statement. Any bike that encourages me to get out and ride, and nudges me explore places in new ways, is likely to win me over. The Diverge has done exactly that.
If you’re considering adding a fast road bike to your quill – a machine that will be used primarily for long, exploratory day rides and occasional fast bikepacks – I can’t recommend it highly enough. Die hard roadies will no doubt quibble over its weight, compared to a dedicated asphalt machine. But everyone else will revel in the undeniable thrill of road riding and fast, ultralight touring, without the restrictions such bikes often impose.
A note on 2016/2017 model years. Each year sees tweaks and changes. Our test bike is from the 2016 model year. 2017 models will be available shortly, meaning bargains from ‘last’ year are sure to be found. For those on a tighter budget, the 2017 Gloss Moto Orange Diverge Elite DSW ($1400) looks like a good contender. It’s specced with a compact double (a hill-friendly 48/32T) and mechanical disc brakes, which could be upgraded to hydros further down the line. Otherwise, the replacement 2017 Diverge Comp now features a carbon frame and fork and a double crankset too. It’s priced at $3300.
I’ve been embarking regularly on two-wheeled explorations for the last 18 years. Most recently, I connected the length of the Americas via the road less traveled, and explored Mongolia on a fat bike. Given my love for mountain biking and backcountry touring, my ideal journey fuses the two, keeping to quiet dirt roads and singletrack where possible.
Weight: 165 lbs